Arrowhead boys track coach Chris Herriot has never been one to shy away from competition.
That’s why the Warhawks have been a dominant force for decades. You may not like the fact Arrowhead has been the 800-pound gorilla in many sports for what it seems like forever, but you have to admire that they seem to get coaches like Herriot who always want to be challenged.
And who make sure that their teams respect that challenge.
Challenges were what everybody faced in the WIAA boys track sectional 6 based on the northwest side of Milwaukee from 2000-2010, and it made everyone better. As I pointed out earlier, the sectional was dominant this decade, especially from 2000-2006, when Milwaukee Vincent won three D1 boys team titles, and Arrowhead and Germantown one each.
And along the way, other teams out of the grouping like Menomonee Falls, Homestead, Whitefish Bay and Watertown would be winning state event titles and finishing in the top 10 on a regular basis.
The sectional hit a little bit of a lull in 2007-08, but came back with a vengeance in 2009 and again in 2010. Falls, under coaches Mike Burling and Bobby Regent-Smith had always been nibbling at first Germantown and then Arrowhead’s heels for many years and in 2009, the competition between Falls and Arrowhead reached a fever pitch.
Burling was the son of long-time Falls boys track coach and hall of famer Ron Burling, who passed away in 2011. He and many others of the clan came up for what would be an historic and emotional moment on that soggy and cold Saturday, a true celebration of family.
That’s because Falls had a powerful sprint based team with balance in many events, a great hurdler in Matt Widule and a smart, talented, motivated junior class that would succeed on many levels in many sports. The Phoenix (then the Indians) came into La Crosse on a five-meet winning streak including beating Arrowhead in both regional and sectional qualifying.
It was a fun sectional qualifier at Homestead on a sunny day and both Falls and Arrowhead coaches compared notes and shared laughs. They shook hands, wished each other well, both thinking they had chances at winning state.
And they were right.
“We felt we’d been a top 15 or so program in the state (for years), and knowing what we had coming back and some of the success we had, we felt we could challenge them (Arrowhead), raise the bar so to speak,” said Mike Burling.
“2009 was one of those years where we felt we could win if we had a good day,” said Herriot. “Some years you are hoping for huge PRs and others you just need guys to do what they did all year.”
Trials Friday on that sunny day went well for both teams went well for both teams and then the miserable cold, wet finals Saturday would test both teams. Both had lapses and both had unexpected pinnacles. and in the end Arrowhead would get enough of both unexpected PRs and expected success to earn its second title of the decade, 52-37, over the Phoenix.
And to justify my claims of domination about the sectional, Vincent made it a one-two-three sweep seizing third with 32 points, and a junior-dominated Homestead team, which would make a huge push the following year, tied for ninth.
That Vincent team was powered by Centrell Minter, who despite the weather on Saturday, repeated as champion in both the 100 and the 200 dashes and also led the Vikings to a championship in the 4 x 100 relay.
The key to Arrowhead’s team victory was Chris Pendergast. He was among the clear favorites to win the pole vault, but when the event was moved inside to Mitchell Hall on Saturday because of the weather, he couldn’t adapt as well and finished a disappointing ninth, out of the medals and the points.
But Herriot said Pendergast kept his head up and helped the Warhawks bounce back.
“He was out of the competition much earlier than he expected,” said Herriot, “(But) he walked right from the vault to the track for the 4 x 200 (relay) in the pouring rain. Those boys knew we had lost what we thought was our biggest lock for points and that would take us out of the team competition if we didn’t make some big moves.”
And that Warhawk relay made a major move as they adapted better to the cold and wet than most others. The team of Pendergast, Evan Rasimus, Casey Panawash-Bielinski and Jake Weber pulled off an upset over favored Falls and that carried them over the finish line to victory.
Herriot said a little bit psychology the previous night helped Arrowhead earn its title.
“Almost all of them (the other relay teams) were shivering and many of them were complaining,” said Herriot of the warm-up before the race. “Our guys were silent, The night before, we played up how much the rain would help us (as I’m sure other teams did as well), but our guys certainly believed it.
“From then on out, things started to go our way. It was a good day.”
And to cement that concept, the Warhawks, who also got an individual title out of Tim Hucke in the 800, went out and won the meet’s final event, the 4 x 400 during the worst of the weather.
It was still a great day for the Phoenix, who got an individual title out of Widule in the 110 high hurdles and which was able to close out the career of the school\s all-time best sprinter Washington Farrington on a high note. Farrington was on the 4 x 200 and also was third in the 100. He finished with six career state medals and would go on to have a multi-time Horizon League championship career at UW-Milwaukee and would later be the sprint coach for for Nicolet for future Knight champion David Dunlap.
It was also the best team finish for Falls since the runner-up spot for Falls North in 1976. But the best moment for the Phoenix came right at the end when they received the runner-up team trophy and Burling took it too his Dad Ron and the pair posed for a photo with it.
It meant a great deal to the younger Burling who got to coach three seasons with his father.
“To simply spend those three years coaching alongside him words can’t even begin to explain the meaning,” said Mike Burling. “Then to make the run we did and finish runner-up. The picture of the two of us still hangs in the basement of our house and not a day goes by that I don’t think of moments like that (we) were able to share.”
“…A man could not ask for a better person as a father, friend, coach, colleague and ‘go to’ than my Dad.”
Having covered the gracious, candid and clear-eyed Ron Burling for many years and having had the honor and privilege of speaking at his funeral, I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree.
And that Phoenix team his son was coaching, especially Widule, was not done making noise just yet as 2010 would prove.
ABBREDERIS SETS THE STANDARD
Elsewhere, the boys meet belonged to Wautoma/Faith Christian’s Jared Abbrederis. The 2008 D2 110 high hurdle dominated both the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles in 2009. He set D2 class records in both events (14.35 in the highs and 37.91 in the intermediates) under balmy conditions in the trials on Friday and then held on to win both under the stormy skies of Saturday.
Both of his trials’ times were all-classes bests for the meet.
Furthermore, he came back on short rest after winning the 300s to take second in the 200 dash. That was crucial as that allowed the Wautoma co-op to pull out a competitive D2 team championship with 35 points as West Salem was second with 33 and Ripon third with 32.
How close was that D2 meet? West Salem was second in the 4 x 200 relay by .09 of a second and again in the 4 x 100 relay by just .02. Either relay moving up just one spot would have been enough to tie for the team title.
For his efforts, Abbrederis was named Gatorade State Athlete of the Year, and he was just starting to write his story. He had also been the spread option quarterback for the D4 WIAA state championship Wautoma football team in the fall of 2008, throwing and running for touchdowns in the title game win over Big Foot.
He walked on to the Wisconsin football team, switched to receiver and had an outstanding career, catching over 200 passes in his career for over 3,100 yards and 23 TDS. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers in 2014, but his NFL career was cut short after three years because he could not avoid the injury bug, but his story of a small town kid rising to the top of sport is still a damn good one!
Another repeat champion in D2 was Alex Steiner of Chilton, who won the 800 for the second straight year, while in D3, sophomore Tom Helstern of Shell Lake took the second of what would be three 400 championships.
Also in D3 Henry Guell of Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs claimed both the shot put and discus.
The Di jumps were characterized by excellence and depth despite the weather. Conducted under balmy skies on Friday, the high jump was won by Collin Taylor of Brookfield East with an impressive 6-10. He had to go that high, because three other competitors cleared 6-7 and two more after that went 6-6.
And in the long and triple jumps, Oladipo Fagbemi of Marshfield ruled the day with impressive all classes best efforts of 23-1 and 47-10 1/4, respectively.
UP NEXT: Tech starts to etch its name permanently in the girls sprint recordbooks, Homestead boys get a team title for Benson, Falls finally wins a 4 x 200 relay, Neblett wins one of the greatest races you will ever see and it turns out that kids in wheelchairs can move pretty fast when they want to.